For five seasons, versatile center Brian Boyle served as a “glue guy” for the New York Rangers.
Boyle was very much an unsung hero during his stay in the Big Apple. Expert penalty-killing, winning defensive zone face-offs, blocking shots and winning puck battles along the wall aren’t the kind of attributes that result in a massive contract or a legion of admirers.
During his final season in New York, Rangers fans began to take notice of Boyle excelling in a number of blue-collar roles. No longer were they criticizing Boyle for his lack of finish, slow footspeed or the perception that he wasn’t fully utilizing his massive strength.
Although the new season hasn’t reached the quarter way point, the Rangers are feeling the pain of losing an effective grinder and a beloved teammate. New York’s loss became Tampa Bay’s gain when Boyle signed a three-year, $6 million contract with the Lightning on July 1.
“He’s been great for us,” Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. “He’s huge on the penalty kill for us, huge in playing defensively and playing the game the right way. You know, it’s a great model to model your game after.”
Having seen two important penalty killers from last season’s Eastern Conference championship roster depart for Tampa in Boyle and two-way defenseman Anton Stralman, the Rangers’ penalty kill has fallen from finishing third overall at 85.3 percent last season to a tie for 18th overall at 79.7 percent this season.
Worse off, the Rangers have begun the new season 7-7-4, while the 13-4-2 Lightning are pushing first-place Montreal for Atlantic Division supremacy.
Johnson says that he’s struck up an immediate friendship with Boyle.
“Once you start talking to him, he’s basically like an instant friend,” Johnson said. “He’s really easy going, really easy to talk to.”
Same goes for superstar center Steven Stamkos. Just like in New York, his new teammates in Tampa Bay enjoy having the affable, towering center on their side.
“He’s a guy’s guy,” Stamkos said. “Everyone seems to gravitate to him. He’s got that personality. We’ve got a good mix of guys on this team. I think it’s helping us so far.”
Personality is another big attribute that Boyle brings to a dressing room. He knows how to keep teammates loose with his colorful personality. He’s always quoting lines some of his favorite films such as “Step Brothers” and “The Princess Bride.” Occasionally, Boyle will entertain teammates by singing along to early 90’s new jack swing hits while showing off a couple of dance moves.
Stamkos is impressed by Boyle’s offensive production. With five goals and three assists through 19 games, Boyle is on-pace to match his finest statistical output of 35 points set during the 2010-11 season.
“He’s got five goals and eight points, he’s producing. We’ve got depth this year, and he’s a big part of that.”
Boyle admitted the emotions got him on Monday night in his return to Madison Square Garden. During a break in play during the first period, the Rangers honored Boyle, Stralman and former captain Ryan Callahan with a touching video screen tribute.
“I tried to play it cool on the bench, it meant a lot though,” Boyle said after the Lightning defeated the Rangers 5-1. “That was really something special that was cool. Like I’ve said plenty of times, I loved my time here. I am very thankful for my time here. It was some of the best years of my life. Fortunately, I am at a good place now was well.”
BOYLE PRAISES RANGERS YOUNGSTER KEVIN HAYES
After agreeing to join the Lightning, Boyle encouraged rookie winger Kevin Hayes to sign for the Rangers after his rights with the Chicago Blackhawks expired.
Hayes and Boyle skated together throughout the offseason in Foxboro, Mass. After the Lightning landed in New York on Sunday, Boyle and Hayes caught up over dinner.
“I actually grabbed dinner with him last night,” Hayes said. “He was a huge influence on me coming here. Seeing him every day in the summer and stuff, it should be a pretty unique game. He’s a big guy, bigger than I am. He’s the type of guy I’d like to emulate. All summer, we battled against each other in face-offs.”
Boyle is impressed by Hayes’ growing game. The 6-foot-7 center is envious of Hayes’ skillful hands.
“He’s got a ton of talent,” Boyle said. “He works really hard. I’m happy for him. I wish I had hands like he did. His offensive vision and his hands, the way he can hold onto the puck with heat coming at him and still making plays is something I could never do. From all the reports I’ve got from the guys away from the rink and stuff, he’s done well.”